In his directorial debut, Rafael Martínez takes us to Cartagena to meet Reynaldo “El Piedra” Salgado, an experienced boxer who is finishing his career as a prominent and renowned fighter while he must deal with the arrival of Breyder, a young boy who claims to be his son.
Despite revolving around the world of boxing, El Piedra doesn’t follow the classic sports story trope. Rather, the movie is a character-driven drama about facing responsibilities and overcoming obstacles.
Likewise, Martínez restrains himself from depicting the well-known touristy and glamorous side of Cartagena. Instead, he chooses the often-ignored streets of this “heroic city,” which are completely stripped of luxuries. This gives the movie a unique atmosphere, allowing it to stand out in the current Colombian film landscape.
Manuel Álvarez, who plays Reynaldo, and Isaac Martínez who plays Breyder, impress with their stand out performances. Especially interesting since neither of them have had any previous acting experience. The chemistry between Álvarez and Martínez is palpable, making their on-screen relationship very sincere, the dialogues are top notch and the dynamics between these two characters and the supporting cast are exceptionally good.
The roster of characters wonderfully represents the daily Cartagena life of these personalities.
However, the narrative gets disjointed as the runtime increases. It shifts between two storylines that have little to do with one another. It’s hard for the movie to balance the boxing storyline with the father-son storyline. When the movie focuses on one, the other is left on the bench.
Also, the story plays it a little too safe. There are no real stakes for these characters; they are never placed in risky situations where we might worry for them, which is a shame because their personalities are exceptionally interesting in this unique setting.
The saving grace of the film is the cinematography, art direction and music, which all suit the film perfectly. These elements strengthen the film, its locations and its characters. Also, the movie has a good dose of smart humour, putting a smile on your face instead of making your eyes roll — unlike many of the offerings that top the box office.
El Piedra is a regional tale with lovely characters and captures the essence of lesser-known parts of Cartagena, never shown in movies or on television. Unfortunately, there is no clear line of action for where the story is going, and this definitely harms the film. Despite having an amazing and heartwarming cast, we never get to care that much for them, we are just observers.
El Piedra opens in Colombian cinemas today